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Geopolitics

Trump Flexes Deal-Making Muscles On Foreign Front

U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House on March 31
U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House on March 31

-Analysis-

Donald Trump is already discovering the old dictum that presidents are elected on domestic policy but eventually take refuge in foreign policy. With his own Republican party bickering and blocking his healthcare proposal in Congress, Trump turns this week to welcoming foreign leaders with whom he can attempt his powers of persuasion on a one-on-one basis.


Trump will be hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping at his "Southern White House" in Mar-a-Lago at the end of the week. Golf probably won't be part of the two-day program, as Xi does not play and has been leading a crackdown on the sport at home as part of his fight against corruption. But issues regarding diplomacy and trade should provide the two leaders with more than enough to discuss.


Starting with the thorny topic of North Korea's nuclear threat. In a widely-commented interview published today in the Financial Times, the U.S. President declares that "if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will," before adding that he "totally" believes Washington can solve the problem without China's help. This comes on the heels of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley's comments over the weekend that the U.S. should "no longer take the excuses from China that "they're concerned.""

It is all about trade.

As "master of "the art of the deal"" (to re-use the Financial Time"s phrasing), Trump knows no good deal can be struck without both sticks and carrots. First of all, from Beijing's point of view, having Trump acting unilaterally against their neighbor in Pyongyang would be a terrible admission of weakness — something no serious power can accept.


The second incentive is one that Trump mentioned himself in his interview: trade. "It is all about trade," he said. The American leader has long made it his ambition to reduce the $347-billion trade deficit with China, and how he begins this gargantuan task this week will be crucial to his presidency as well as to the future of the U.S. economy.


There is, however, one issue that appears notably low on Trump's agenda: human rights. He reportedly doesn't intend to raise the issue of human rights violations in public, as his predecessors regularly did. No more with Xi Jinping than with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who will visit the White House today. Will Trump raise the issue in private? Will he apply any carrots or sticks? On the foreign policy front, Trump already knows that the commander-in-chief needs no input from Congress.

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